ISHPEMING - Ishpeming native Jeremy "Syms" Symons describes the past four years like this: "Wow, what a ride it has been."
The young entrepreneur launched Yooper Shirts late in 2009, working out of the small apartment in which he lived in Negaunee, covering all aspects of his new business on his own.
Fast forward to 2014: Symons now has a retail and production space in what was once the Gossard Factory building in Ishpeming and employs four people. The Facebook page for Yooper Shirts has nearly 36,000 "likes" and he fills orders not only from local clientele but from around the globe.
Various items and apparel available at Yooper Shirts. (Journal photos by Renee Prusi)
Is that what he expected when he started?
"In the back of my mind, I hoped this is how it would go," Symons said with a grin. "But wow."
Celebrities like Steve Mariucci - the Iron Mountain native who once coached the Detroit Lions - have posed in Yooper Shirts. And Symons comes up with new designs all the time, items that are tied to the history of local communities or anything Yooper, really.
"But I think about 70 percent of our business is custom screen printing and embroidery," he said. "A lot of people don't know that we do embroidery."
WIth a small minimum for a custom order - just eight pieces - Yooper Shirts can make items for events like class or family reunion or any special occasion.
"I have a lot more equipment now than when I started," Symons said. "We can do athletic uniforms with the names and numbers on them."
In fact, U.P. Sports Shop by Yooper Shirts is a division of the company.
Yooper Shirts has a wide range of items available: T-shirts, of course, but also polos, hoodies, koozies, bags, hats and all sorts of other things. These are for sale in the retail space on Cleveland Avenue in Ishpeming, which has a array of these items on display.
"The Yooper icon shirt is probably are most popular, still," Symons said. "The Yooper heart is popular, too, and anything with the 906 on it. People still buy the deer crossing design, too."
July is always the busiest warm-weather month for the business.
"The Fourth of July in Ishpeming and Pioneer Days in Negaunee are always big for us," Symons said. "We had a new design for Negaunee this year that sold out almost right away."
In his efforts to continue to grow his business, Symons has established a Yooper Shirts presence in many Upper Peninsula retailers.
"More stores in the U.P. have started to stock us," he said. "Getz's in Marquette is the biggest one and one of our first. But we're also in the Marquette Regional History Center, Touch of Finland and Che Bello (in Marquette); Grand Marais Outfitters in Grand Marais; Cycle Path in Menominee; Rhythm Skateshop in Houghton; Chicken Coop in Republic; Hobby Wheel in Ironwood.
"And now we have some of our stuff at Michigan Tech (University), too, in the campus bookstore."
Other retailers wishing to carry Yooper Shirts are welcome to contact Symons at 204-2255 or through the business website at yoopershirts.com.
Symons is proud of his business's continuing evolution.
"We design the stuff. We print the stuff right here in Ishpeming," he said. "We believe in Ishpeming. We want to invest in Ishpeming, in keeping it alive. We want to keep as much money in the area as we can."
The building in which Yooper Shirts is housed was once a thriving factory, the significance of which matters to Symons.
"The history of this building is amazing," he said. "We keep that in mind. If we want to expand, we have room here to move up(stairs). That's important to me."
Yooper Shirts at 308 Cleveland Ave., Suite 104, Ishpeming, is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 240.